Racecraft Group Read

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Racecraft Group Read

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Oct 5, 2015, 6:00pm

not sure where to place this, but here we go. we'd talked about doing a group read of racecraft in october and i wanted to see if people were still thinking this would be a good time to get started on reading and discussing it.

Oct 5, 2015, 7:11pm

I am interested. I just put a hold on the book at my library.

Oct 5, 2015, 7:54pm

I'm in!

Oct 5, 2015, 9:09pm

i will locate my copy and start reading!

Oct 10, 2015, 11:57pm

anyone else reading this?

i'm just starting chapter 2. am finding it super interesting and slow going as it's relatively academic. no, maybe that's not quite right. it gives the reader more credit than i'm used to getting, lately, and i'm not sure i deserve it; so i'm trying to live up to the authors expectations of me as i read.

Oct 11, 2015, 9:05am

I've just started it, so I'll chime in this week.

Oct 11, 2015, 10:12am

I'm still waiting to receive a copy on hold at the library but I'll join once I have it.

Oct 11, 2015, 3:53pm

>7 sparemethecensor: do they give you an eta?

Oct 11, 2015, 4:59pm

I'm first in line but it is still checked out.

Oct 11, 2015, 6:13pm

Hey. I'm jet-lagged and very busy so I'll probably follow from the sidelines for now.

In case anyone would like to check the book out before buying or ordering, eromsted linked its Google Books preview:


IIRC, it gives a goodly chunk from the first chapter.

Oct 12, 2015, 10:27am

Any comment on the authors' use of African-American (first generation immigrants from Africa to the US) vs. Afro-American (US-born people with African/Afro-American heritage)?

Think it could catch on? (Or has it already, but I missed it?)

Oct 12, 2015, 1:25pm

i don't think it has caught on, and probably won't, but i do think that it's a good distinction. if you're talking about people's heritage, which the authors are (but perhaps most of america isn't), then using a word that says descended from africa to cover anyone who is black is simply incorrect and lazy.

and, as the authors show, works to continue to perpetuate racecraft.

Oct 12, 2015, 1:44pm

I can appreciate the distinction, but like what the authors said in their note:

"We do not take a dogmatic view on such terminological questions"

Oct 12, 2015, 4:24pm

What's the significance of the distinction, I mean apart from denoting someone who is foreign-born vs. not? I ask as a not-American. I've come across a few Italians and Irish who could get incensed over n-generation Americans describing themselves as Italian and Irish but for my part I always assumed such usage was just shorthand for "having Italian/Irish/X heritage".

My idea was that it's useful as a pointer that someone grew up or operates in a different cultural context, but I don't know that that would be all.

Oct 13, 2015, 12:07pm

well i think there are two things at work here.

i agree that it's useful to know that someone comes from a cultural context that may be different, although i suspect that most americans don't give a shit and won't make allowances for that. but for people who care about that, yes, i think it's helpful to know that. not sure we need to have a label for it, though, since it can just be stated in conversation.

but we - in america, anyway - seem to be obsessed with labeling people. we are uncomfortable until we can put people in boxes and assign them all the characteristics we assume people in those boxes have. so for well meaning people, being more accurate in labeling someone's heritage and/or ancestry is an attempt to label (and maybe therefore understand) someone better. for other people, and well meaning people, it's a way to direct discrimination.

Oct 13, 2015, 1:01pm

i'm not sure i know what i'm saying.

in a different thread (https://www.librarything.com/topic/187943#5274027) Lola said:

"Perhaps just a word about the term "racecraft": the authors have found useful an analogy with witchcraft in explaining how "folk beliefs" entrench themselves as "general knowledge", the "everybody knows some people have evil eye" and other superstitions and magical beliefs existing alongside rational habits of the mind.

Thus, "everybody knows race exists" seems to be something that hardly needs proof or explanation for many perfectly "rational" people.

Except that "race" doesn't exist, not as a primary-occurring biological feature of any human being. We actually KNOW this, scientifically, from even before the era of genomic typing, when human populations were being analysed on the basis of blood type, genetic loci etc.

No standard of "diversification" has been established (and thousands of racists looked VERY hard for more than a century now) such that can "type" people unequivocally as white, black etc.

In other words, race is a social construct. But whereas most discussions about race, at least among progressives, end there, the authors, eminently logically, BEGIN with that, and show how constructing race is the whole pathetic and paradoxical business of racism."

i was really excited about this last part. i feel like i hear a lot of "race is a social construct," "there is no such thing as race," etc. but it always ends there. so i've been looking forward to seeing where they go next, and have been mostly disappointed so far. i have felt mostly like they started here, and then have continued to repeat it in different essays again and again. (i'm about halfway through the book right now.) i guess i am hoping that they'll show how if race is a social construction that is how we get racism, i want them to show me how to deconstruct race, but maybe that's asking too much. also maybe it's not a black person's job to show me that, and my job as a white person, to seek out that solution.

Oct 13, 2015, 7:31pm

Maybe I'm misunderstanding you... but I think showing how racism creates race in effect "deconstructs" racism.

I've read very little "theoretical" stuff on racism, but everything I've seen so far takes something called "race" for granted, at the very least as a "socially useful" construct or something. It's a "construct", but it IS. Whereas the Fields seem to me to be doing something very new and eye-opening in insisting on the factual, physical, biological inexistence of race throughout.

It takes some time perhaps to get used to this perspective. Maybe it's easier for me because I grew up without "race"? I had to LEARN to think in race-racist terms as an adult. Suddenly, I was told, I was white and these other people were black...

Argh, just lost a thought--still not getting enough sleep--will come back.

Edited: Oct 14, 2015, 9:53am

i misspoke, i think because the language of this book is hard for me. i think i should have said that i'd like to know how to deconstruct racecraft.

but i think you made a crucial point. that in most discussions of race being a social construct, the assumption is still that race exists; this book is showing us how it doesn't.

you grew up in canada or just live there now? i know you've lived in a lot of places. it's so hard to even imagine growing up without race...

eta: i'm not sleeping enough either, which i know is contributing to my muddled head over the last few weeks. but, because i'm not sleeping, i don't know how muddled...

Oct 14, 2015, 3:56pm

I spent first fourteen years of my life in various countries in the Near East, returned to Europe for high school and uni (also various countries), came to the US for grad school... Contrary to American usage, Arabs weren't (aren't) perceived as being non-white. (Perhaps you'd be interested in the topic here and some links by Egyptian blogger: http://www.librarything.com/topic/189795)

Yeah, the language, the change in perspective really kept me on my toes too... I hope the analogy isn't too weak or off, but to me it seems similar to the change I had to make to how I thought about (the habits of thought I had absorbed unconsciously), how I saw, women's oppression, or rape--it's not something happening because of women's gender, it doesn't stem from that, it's not a result of that, like an apple grows on an apple tree. It's happening because someone treats that way people perceived as women. "Gender" doesn't "do" anything.

The shift in emphasis is most important for understanding what is going on. Well, you know that better than anyone--the blindspot of "rape is natural" apologists who make it the "problem" of women, of their sex, when it is patently outside, in those who wish to and do rape.

Blacks are made to suffer racism, but "race" as a "problem" is 100% a white problem.

Still haven't started re-reading.

Can you say more on what you mean by "deconstructing"? Getting rid of?

Oct 15, 2015, 3:55am

the blindspot of "rape is natural" apologists who make it the "problem" of women, of their sex, when it is patently outside, in those who wish to and do rape.
Blacks are made to suffer racism, but "race" as a "problem" is 100% a white problem.

So much this. I'm really curious about this book!

Oct 15, 2015, 8:33am

>19 LolaWalser: it's not a result of that, like an apple grows on an apple tree. It's happening because someone treats that way people perceived as women.

So it's a self-fulfilling prophecy?

Oct 15, 2015, 8:40am

>21 southernbooklady:

I don't understand the question. The "it" in my sentence was oppression of women/rape by analogy with racism; I don't see how that, or gender/skin colour can be described as any kind of "prophecy".

Oct 15, 2015, 8:45am

>22 LolaWalser: I think you're taking the expression rather literally. Because it's simpler than putting it into words myself, here's how Wiki explains it: "strongly held belief, or delusion—declared as truth when it is actually false—may sufficiently influence people so that their reactions ultimately fulfill the once-false prophecy." Prophecy as in, a thing that comes to pass, not as in some sort of carnival woman with a crystal ball.

That said, I don't get Southernbooklady's question at all, or more explicitly, how that question came out of your post.

Oct 15, 2015, 8:46am

>23 .Monkey.:

:) I know the meaning of self-fulfilling prophecy, I just don't understand the question.

Oct 15, 2015, 8:47am

I figured you should, haha, but your reaction to "prophesy" threw me there. ;P

Oct 15, 2015, 8:49am

I was just trying to trace the element in what I said that could fit the phrase, in anticipation of clarification.

Oct 15, 2015, 9:35am

>22 LolaWalser: Well, maybe I'm misunderstanding your post -- when you say that misogyny is not a product of gender, (or that race and therefore racism are not products of ethnicity), it sounds to me like that means that these are concepts we create to justify ourselves -- that is what is ultimately meant by "race is a social construct." Thus the only reality in concept of race is that we need it to be real. So, a self-fulfilling...not prophecy, maybe, but mass delusion?

Edited: Oct 15, 2015, 10:04am

Just to be clear, I was talking about what (I think) the Fields are saying--if you are reading the book perhaps you can see the connection?

I'm not sure I'd get this "Thus the only reality in concept of race is that we need it to be real. So, a self-fulfilling...not prophecy, maybe, but mass delusion?", or in those words, from what they are saying...

In short, racism is real, race isn't. People who need racism invent race (pick on skin colour etc. as a "criterion") in order to oppress others--because it's economically, politically, socially etc. advantageous to the privileged.

But there's nothing in people that of itself says "I am trait X for which you will be oppressed etc."

Oct 15, 2015, 10:18am

>28 LolaWalser: People who need racism invent race (pick on skin colour etc. as a "criterion") in order to oppress others--because it's economically, politically, socially etc. advantageous to the privileged.

This was really brought home to me when I read Between the World and Me, where Coates consistently refers to "the people who think they are white."

I'm still reading Racecraft, and will hopefully have something more substantial to say when I feel a little more confident I am grasping the points they are making. It's slow going for me.

Oct 15, 2015, 10:35am

>19 LolaWalser:

to me it seems similar to the change I had to make to how I thought about (the habits of thought I had absorbed unconsciously), how I saw, women's oppression, or rape--it's not something happening because of women's gender, it doesn't stem from that, it's not a result of that, like an apple grows on an apple tree. It's happening because someone treats that way people perceived as women. "Gender" doesn't "do" anything.

no, this isn't too weak an analogy; i think it's exactly spot on. thanks for putting it in this light, i think that makes it easier for me.

Can you say more on what you mean by "deconstructing"?

i was thinking yesterday that i used the wrong word here, too. really i mean dismantling. what we can do to tear it down. but i'm asking too much. partly because the first step is seeing it, acknowledging it, which this book helps us to do. and, as they say at the end (p 260), "What is to be done is no more obvious now than it was..." so maybe the dismantling part isn't clear to anyone.

Edited: Oct 15, 2015, 10:49am

>29 southernbooklady:

Have you come yet across the several anecdotes describing "Martians", i.e. non-Americans confronting American-style parsing of skin colour? I'm not remembering all the details, but one concerned immigrant cabbie in the US (Middle Eastern I think?) who picks up first a black fare (maybe one of the Fields) and then, because it's raining cats and dogs, offers to pick up a second fare, a white person getting soaked. The white person first agrees but on opening the door and taking stock of the situation--presumably a better look at the first fare and/or the cabbie--changes their mind and backs off. The cabbie is astounded, the black fare is not, some conversation ensues on what this meant, the difference between the US and cabbie's homeland etc.

Another anecdote concerns also a Middle Easterner IIRC, on the subway, witnessing something between a young black mother and an older white man and having a reaction different to that of his black interlocutor.

I think these are important in illustrating the need to keep a kind of a "double mind" while reading, which is very difficult but THERE is where, imo, the value lies--try to be "Martian" about race (sort of how many non-Americans are, such as those Middle Easterners she mentions) AND consider the reality of racism at the same time. (One side effect could be perpetual rage because this really drives home that people suffer injustice, and what extreme, absurd injustice, 24/7.)

To remember all the time that race doesn't exist and yet that something called "race" is produced all the time through systemic racism and individual prejudice. People behave "as if" race existed. The behaviour is there, race isn't.

>30 overlycriticalelisa:

Yeah, dismantling is a tall order but I think theoretically at least it happens, up to a point at least, through realising some things.

Oct 15, 2015, 11:03am

Thus the only reality in concept of race is that we need it to be real. So, a self-fulfilling...not prophecy, maybe, but mass delusion?

i think that the fields would go so far as to say mass conspiracy.

Oct 15, 2015, 11:09am

>31 LolaWalser: -try to be "Martian" about race (sort of how many non-Americans are, such as those Middle Easterners she mentions) AND consider the reality of racism at the same time.

I think the metaphor of being a Martian has much more going for it than the chimera of "colorblindness".

Oct 15, 2015, 7:19pm

>33 southernbooklady:

But it's the same thing.

Oct 15, 2015, 8:07pm

It doesn't feel like the same thing from my perspective, which granted is entirely American. When white people say they are "colorblind" in American culture, it sounds like code for "we won't reject you even though you are black." It has a patronizing flavor -- a "do come in to our white houses and take part in our white rituals and we will pretend your blackness isn't there, doesn't matter, has never mattered." It's a kind of erasure of a person's entire living experience, whatever it was.

What never seems to be acknowledged--indeed, what seems to be actively resisted by white people ("the people who think they are white", the ones in power) -- is the idea that their assumptions and their lives are incomplete. Their world, their culture, their society, is missing great chunks of humanity -- it is bereft of all the culture and experience and wisdom of all the peoples they have been ostracizing, repressing, ignoring, and killing.

White Americans have to acknowledge that they will be changed by rejecting racism and embracing...well, humanity. And they will have to welcome the fact that some of their cultural values -- including some very dear ones -- will have to be discarded because they were values built of the premise of white superiority.

So I guess the difference in my mind between being "a Martian" and being "colorblind" is that a Martian would land on this planet without any preconceptions at all --about white or black people. People would be people. But the white American who claims to be colorblind isn't without all those preconceptions, he's just pretending they don't exist.

Oct 15, 2015, 9:15pm

>35 southernbooklady:

Nobody is literally colourblind (um, daltonism aside...), not even "Martians". Back in my "Martian" days, I saw quite clearly this or that person was (visibly) black or (visibly) white. It's more the question of what sort of ideas associate with this or that skin colour (or any other feature etc.) Before I learned racism, I had no idea what it meant to be, in the US, (visibly) white or black.

I do agree that anyone claiming to be "colourblind" in the US is an idiot or a liar, there can be no colourblindness in a racist society.

But, keeping in mind the work proposed by this book, when I said it asks us to try to "be a Martian", I meant that was in order to gain (or regain) this novel perspective--not, you know, some life-goal to strive for. An ideal, yes, but not a practical goal.

"Martians" aren't in any sort of enviable position, they are just ignorant in a specific way that makes some things easier and yet other things harder for them. But their perspective is important in illustrating what it means to exist "without race"... more or less.

That's what I got from those anecdotes.

Edited: Oct 15, 2015, 9:33pm

Speaking of anecdotes, can anyone help me out with the one about the black American academic and the stained glass window she saw in France? Did I understand correctly that the figure she immediately noticed DID depict a black person in chains? Was this confirmed--did the surprised French people agree with her--or was it in the end ambiguous, resting on impression?

I wish there had been info on the location and the item.

I would like to know precisely because it's very interesting, if it HAD been a black person. Who was it, what was the event? Or was it a "Moor"? A captive soldier would be more likely, I think, than a domestic servant. Could it have been a martyr?

I didn't understand what Fields got from that incident. ETA: I understand why she immediately noticed that figure, and why she thought it was black (and of course it COULD be black); I don't understand how the French reacted exactly, what was the surprise about, and how Fields interpreted the difference between her observation and theirs (lack of observation perhaps).

Oct 16, 2015, 9:54pm

>37 LolaWalser:

i don't remember where in the book it is, so could be wrong, but form what i remember: yes, there was a black person in chains in the image in the glass, but it wasn't even noticed by the french people who frequented the services in the church. both because the people are focused on the religious part of the image that is above the person in chains, and also because a black person in chains isn't "worth noting." who it was - moor, captive solider, domestic servant, etc - i don't think was mentioned as it likely wasn't part of what mattered to her.

Oct 17, 2015, 9:47am

I just got the book from the library yesterday and started it this morning. Over my morning tea, I read the first chapter and found it quite slow going given its surprisingly (to me) dense nature. Hoping to catch up to some of you this weekend so I can participate more fully in the discussion.

Oct 17, 2015, 9:50am

i've been saying that it's a very intellectual book, but "dense" is a better way to describe it. i found it slow going as well.

Oct 17, 2015, 10:08am

it's always resonated with me when i've heard therapists say things like, "what is that outlook doing for you" or "figure out how your depression is benefiting you" to get at the roots of things and why we hold on to them even when they're unhealthy. that's the way i understood and immediately related to this when i read it, early on in the book: "...America's post-racial era has not been born. Perhaps it can be made if America lets those concepts go. But if they are hard to let go, why is that? What are they made of? How do they work? And what work do they do? ... Racist concepts do considerable work in political and economic life; but, if they were merely an appendage of politics and economics, without intimate roots in other phases of life, their persuasiveness would accordingly diminish."

i've thought of privilege in working this way, but hadn't seen racism articulated like this before.

Oct 18, 2015, 9:35am

>41 overlycriticalelisa:

If you recall, Jensen (The heart of whiteness) writes something similar when discussing white privilege--how racism profits whites, not just economically etc. but also emotionally.

Oct 18, 2015, 9:36am

I think I'll come back to the stained glass window because it says very interesting things about perception and "Martians".

Oct 18, 2015, 4:06pm

I've just read the segment on the story of the middle-aged white man who congratulates himself on berating a young, black mother for wanting to hit her son on the subway.

I found interesting the discussion around his wanting other black people on the subway to be on his side as though they were "her people" and the other whites were "his people."

But here's something that struck me when I stepped back and thought about it in the Martian context:

I am a white person and I don't support parents hitting their children. But if I saw this on the subway, I would side with the mother, because I would see it as yet another power struggle of middle-aged white men asserting dominance over young women. I would identify with her, as we are both young women, more than I would identify with him, as a white person opposed to hitting children.

I'm not sure what to make of this (is it also a form of tribalism? Women against men?) but I wanted to offer it for discussion.

Oct 18, 2015, 4:13pm

What drew my attention in that story was the reaction of the Middle Easterner (the "Martian") who didn't understand the black and white "factions" forming on the issue. To him the point was the treatment of the child, not the colour of the parties involved.

But then, that Martian impartiality is also a token of Martian ignorance of the subtext and how loaded it is (in the US) for a white person (and male, and older) to strike a superior attitude toward a black person (and female, and young...)

Oct 21, 2015, 9:27pm

>42 LolaWalser:

i'm not surprised that i don't remember that, or that he wrote that as well.

another piece from very early on that really struck me was: "Everyone has skin color, but not everyone's skin color counts as race, let alone as evidence of criminal conduct. The missing step between someone's physical appearance and an invidious outcome is the practice of a double standard: in a word, racism. ... Racism did not require a racist. It required only that, in the split second before firing the fatal shot, the white officer entered the twilight zone of America's racecraft."

Oct 22, 2015, 9:51am

So I'm still in the first part of the book, appreciative of the density of the topic and the concepts, but finding it slow going nonetheless. Life got in the way this week, but I think really my problem is that I have to read things two or three times to get them to sink in at all -- I've always been that way with abstract and academic writing. That said, even just the intro and first chapter with its statement that race is a result of racism (why did I never think of it like that?) has had an affect on how I read things. For example, in this article about the Texas School system's approach to teaching the history of slavery:

How Texas teaches history

Before starting Racecraft, I would have read that article with an Orwellian eye. Now, it has an entirely different flavor.

Oct 22, 2015, 5:41pm

i'm certain that i missed a lot because i didn't read everything over and over again to make sure i got it. i get impatient with books (with still reading it, i mean) at some point, and i can see that i marked considerably more parts of this book in the first half than the second, probably for that reason.

but even so, i agree, there is such a perspective shift here.

Oct 22, 2015, 6:24pm

>47 southernbooklady: and others:

I've been reading another book on a similar topic off and on over the last few weeks. It's also dense reading, White by academic media critic Richard Dyer. Many of the points he makes about media representation connected with me, and one that this Texas debacle brought to mind was a quote about films where enlightened white men reject the notion of slavery but their black former slaves continue to act as servant-sidekicks throughout. In Dyer's words, "Slavery is thus condemned but shown as what blacks, not whites, crave."

This struck me because in the modern age, we would never find it acceptable to say slavery is OK, but we are also not comfortable as a white-dominated society accepting blame for our history. So we do things like say slavery was immigration.

Oct 22, 2015, 6:44pm

i agree with you, sparemethecensor, but why are we so uncomfortable or unwilling to accept blame for our history? why is that so difficult?

Oct 22, 2015, 6:49pm

I don't know, but I'd guess it's because we don't want to do anything about it, and admitting guilt might mean we'd have to.

Oct 22, 2015, 8:35pm

yeah, and the doing something about it means giving up comfort/privilege. that makes sense. that's how not accepting blame benefits us...

Oct 23, 2015, 6:20am

Yes, it would mean fully acknowledging white privilege and making the real effort to do something to balance that, which is pretty much unthinkable to a lot of people. I mean hell, even tons of non-racist but ignorant people refuse to accept that whites have innate privilege, and argue about there being poor white people, and why do blacks need BET and if "WET" was made people would be furious so BET is not okay! (yes I have actually had this argument with people!) etc. People are loathe to give up their cushy lives and fear what would come of such admissions, so they won't even admit it to themselves.

Oct 23, 2015, 8:40am

>52 overlycriticalelisa: yeah, and the doing something about it means giving up comfort/privilege.

Even more than that, doing something about it means admitting complicity. Most of us don't think we are bad people inside. We don't think our families or friends are bad, or that our way of life is, well, evil. So wrapping our heads around the idea that everything we assumed was good is built on and indeed requires the suffering and repression of others---that's hard for what Ta-Nehisi Coates calls "the dreamers," the people invested in "the American Dream," to take in.

Oct 28, 2015, 9:30pm

sorry, i got lost there for a bit.

>53 .Monkey.: yes, i've had the bet vs wet question more times than i thought i ever would have.

i don't know. maybe i'm just not going as deeply as i could be about it, and not getting to what it would really look like to give up privilege. but i feel like i'm not a bad person (not a great person either, but not bad) and i also feel like i'm not exceptional, and i haven't found it difficult to "admit complicity" and see what racism is doing, and how i've benefited from it.

it's so frustrating. i mean, what a blockade to put up...

Oct 30, 2015, 12:16pm

Just a note that I got to the stained glass bit again and it seems clearer now, there's no quotation but Fields mentions (in footnote) the book on medieval slave trade in Bordeaux where her (if it was she? She writes about the American academic in the third person.) observation was noted.

I got Ta-Nehisi Coates' book and I must read it simultaneously (I mean, no time to stagger) so this is going even slower but the similarities in some viewpoints are interesting.

Oct 30, 2015, 12:32pm

I'm really interested in Ta-Nehisi Coates' work, I saw him on the Daily Show and he seemed like an interesting intelligent guy.